Senate confirms Monica Bertagnolli as NIH director

Senate confirms Monica Bertagnolli as NIH director

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Dr. Monica M. Bertagnolli, a cancer surgeon who currently heads the National Cancer Institute, as the next director of the National Institutes of Health, ignoring objections from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senate President of the health. Committee.

The vote was 62 to 36, with Mr. Sanders voting no. In a statement last monthhe said that although Dr. Bertagnolli was an “intelligent and caring person,” he would vote against her because she “has not convinced me that she is prepared to take on the greed and power of pharmaceutical companies and of the health care industry.

Dr. Bertagnolli will become only the second woman to lead the NIH permanently, following Dr. Bernadine P. Healy, who served under President George HW Bush. She will take over an agency that has been the target of political attacks from Republicans, who have accused its scientists of intentionally downplaying the possibility that Covid-19 was the result of a lab leak.

“I think no one wants to know what the true origin of the last Covid pandemic was more than the biomedical research community,” Dr. Bertagnolli told Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, the top Republican on the health committee. , during his speech. confirmation hearing last month.

“And how are you going to achieve this?” asked Mr. Cassidy, who is a doctor. Dr. Bertagnolli promised that she would make all data on the subject “available, public and accountable to the American people.”

President Biden announced in May that he would nominate Dr. Bertagnolli to head the NIH, the world’s premier medical research agency, which has an annual budget of more than $47 billion and occupies a sprawling campus in Bethesda , in Maryland. director since Dr. Francis S. Collins resigned nearly two years ago.

But in an unusual twist, Mr. Sanders, an independent who caucus with the Democrats, delayed Dr. Bertagnolli’s confirmation hearing for months in an effort to pressure Mr. Biden to take more aggressive steps to reduce drug prices.

The standoff finally ended in September, after the Department of Health and Human Services announced a $326 million contract with Regeneron to develop a new monoclonal antibody treatment for Covid-19. The agreement stipulated that if the drug came to market, its list price had to be equal to or lower than the price in other major countries – a provision that prompted Mr. Sanders will announce he would schedule an audience for Dr. Bertagnolli.

The hearing went well for Dr. Bertagnolli, who grew up on a ranch in southwest Wyoming and was introduced to the committee by a Republican from that state, Senator John Barrasso. He praised her as someone who understands rural America and said he had talked with her neighbors.

“They speak of his courage, his endurance and his determination,” said Mr. Barrasso, a doctor, adding: “His commitment to the land and the livestock speaks volumes about his character and his courage.”

Dr. Bertagnolli also has cancer. She announced at the end of last year that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She told the committee she had completed treatment and her prognosis “is excellent.”

“I also had access to exceptional care, knowing full well that not all patients are equally fortunate,” she said. “Most importantly, every treatment I have received has been supported by NIH-funded research.”

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Eric D. Eilerman

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